Pugliese, owner of Pugliese Farms in Kingston, took first place earlier this month in the Georgia Farm Bureau Hay Contest.
A perennial competitor, Pugliese has ranked in the top 10 every year for the past 10 years and once took second place, but before now had never placed first. His secret? It’s in the ground.
“It all starts with a soil test; I don’t care what kind of hay you’re growing,” Pugliese said. “That’s a must. You can’t be guessing out there.
“Your cows or your horses utilize [higher quality hay] without a lot of waste and they don’t have to eat as much of it either. If you can get one bale of hay with 24 percent of protein, you would have to buy two cheap bales of hay at 12 percent protein. So those two cheap bales at $6 apiece, may not be worth $12 when you can get one bale for maybe a dollar more, about $7. So when they say, ‘Your hay is more expensive.’ Well, no, it’s actually not. You get more growth and the animals will grow faster with a good quality protein that they can digest and then you spend less to almost no money at all on corn and grain and supplements to feed your horses or cows. You don’t need supplements when you’ve got hay this good.”
His winning hay sample was coastal bermudagrass with a relative forage quality of 135.4. RFQ is a method devised by scientists at the University of Georgia to create a quality scale for evaluating and marketing hay.
“Winter feed costs represent 25 percent to 40 percent of total beef cattle expenses and are a major factor influencing beef cattle profitability,” stated a 2004 UGA publication by John Andrae, Paul Vendrell and Ann Blount. “Recent work conducted at the University of Georgia has resulted in development of an accurate and simple method to define hay quality. This system is called Relative Forage Quality and should simplify hay marketing and pricing in the future.”
In addition to a high RFQ, Pugliese’s award-winning hay registered a protein level of 24.1 percent and total digestive nutrients of 59.3 percent.
For his winning entry, Pugliese won a year’s use of a new Vermeer mower with the option to purchase at a reduced rate after the first year of use. The prize is one Pugliese looks forward to after having to repair his current mower twice in the past year.
Pugliese offers tips on how he gets the most out of his hay fields with help from a soil test.
• pH: Keep pH levels around 6.0 “Don’t skimp on lime. Lime is your cheapest fertilizer.”
• magnesium: “Don’t skimp on magnesium just because it costs more.”
• nitrogen: A commonly overused element that can lead to still births in livestock. “A lot of people spend a lot of money on nitrogen because they get a lot of results, but you’re robbing the soil of everything else,” Pugliese said. “Don’t overuse your nitrogen, especially during drought conditions when it’s dry. A lot of the hays in the hay contest were kicked out because a lot of farmers put a lot of nitrogen in and the grass and hay was nitrate toxic and it became dangerous to feed to livestock and that’s what you’re raising it for. Your nitrates can’t be above 4,500 [parts per million].”
Pugliese also urges hay growers to consider their source of nitrogen. For years, he has used city of Cartersville biosolids because of its low acidity.
Other factors that lead to high-quality, clean hay occur at the time of harvest. Even Pugliese’s methods of cutting and raking his hay are developed with quality in mind.
“Another important ingredient is cutting the hay when it is young and tender,” Pugliese said. “When the hay gets taller, above the knees and even up to your waist, you’re getting more tons per acre, but that’s what you’re getting, tons of roughage, tons of straw and less protein and less quality forage. So cut your hay when it’s young and tender. ... And when you cut, don’t mow down to the stubble, that will kick up dirt. When I cut, I’ll leave enough so the plants can recuperate.
“I rake with a side-delivery rake, it costs a little more to run, but it does not have to touch the ground to rake and you get cleaner hay. Wheel rakes work faster but they have to touch the dirt to turn and it will rake up rocks, dirt, manure, fertilizer — that all gets mixed in the hay.”
Pugliese began growing hay in 1968 at his Kingston farm, but has been a farmer most of his life. He and his wife are both retired educators from the Cartersville City School System, but Pugliese continued to farm throughout his career. Born in New Jersey, he was raised on a family farm, but quickly saw that farm “devoured by city growth and subdivisions.” In his teenage years, Pugliese worked on Amish and Mennonite farms in Pennsylvania before moving to Georgia and studying agriculture at Berry College.
“It’s a family farm, the whole family has worked, they’ve learned what a good hard work ethic is,” Pugliese, a father of three, said. “I enjoy it. I hope I can still do it on the day of the last harvest.”
For hay, firewood or other farm products, call 770-382-1193 or visit Pugliese Farms at 1910 Euharlee Road in Kingston.